The global outbreak of COVID-19 is not exhibiting any signs of subsiding. There is not a single nation or sector that has not been affected by its rampage. Various industries such as education, healthcare, real estate, travel, and tourism, etc. have been severely impacted. The worst-hit, however, is undoubtedly the hospitality sector.
Travel restrictions were imposed much before the nationwide lockdowns. Reluctance to travel due to the fear of outbreak confined avid travelers into their territories. The unrelenting nature of the virus paved the way for mandatory lockdowns with a ban on inbound travel and worsened the scenario. This wiped off a major chunk of revenue from businesses by nudging them to indefinitely shut their properties, suspend services, and observe extreme cost-cutting leading to job loss across the globe.
The outbreak comes as an eye-opener for hospitality brands that had not prepared themselves for this scenario. The current development has forced them to be resilient, agile, and prompt to respond to such situations and execute actions timely – should a similar scenario arise in the future. This will not only minimize their loss but also be a deciding factor for recovery once the crisis is over.
Experience contributes as an unparalleled resource that helps take decisive steps to mitigate the impact. Formulating flexible policies and implementing them in terms of cancellations, rebooking, and adjusting loyalty programs play a pivotal role over here. Further, keeping an eye on competitors, being active on social media to connect with people, informing how the brand is dealing with the crisis, and instituting other measures also help the brand to be more responsive vis-a-vis the customer needs.
Apart from these, a hospitality brand can also leverage AI and Machine Learning to recover quickly from the wounds inflicted by coronavirus. These are:
Tailored offers: Hospitality brands can utilize the power of AI and NLP to collect data on individual preferences and render personalized recommendations as well as alerts non-intrusively. It can also be leveraged to drive proactive plans to deliver a hassle-free experience to travelers. AI-driven hospitality apps can offer on-demand services and develop algorithms that can connect regular guests with vendors to facilitate online booking of flights, cars, etc. It can also be used to connect with the consumers through direct yet subtle messaging via the social media platforms they frequently visit.
Customer Support: Once the impact of the pandemic wanes, there will be a huge and sudden surge in the demand for hospitality services. With numerous queries pouring in, AI-led customer support systems can help streamline queries of the guests around rebooking and rescheduling. A few AI-powered mobile solutions can also help generate soft sales by making customers revisit their travel history and calendar, thereby allowing them to experience the same again with curated offers.
AI-Driven Monitoring: Due to heightened customer receptiveness about contagious diseases, hotels across the world might have to consider investing in safety and sanitation henceforth. AI-driven video analytics solutions can add tangible value in this scenario by identifying infected customers and tracing their effective contact across the premises. AI-powered concierges can also be deployed for the safety of the customers, wherever possible.
Travel recommendations: Deep learning and NLP-backed text and image analytics can use customized pictures and text uploaded by travelers to drive superior conversion rates. The AI algorithm can study an individual’s personality traits and identify trends in a user’s social media activity to present the most optimal packages.
Customer preferences: AI can further help a hospitality brand in understanding a customer’s preferences with regard to what appeals or turns-off a high-end user. Experiences can then be altered to help serve such customers better. This can save considerable time by eliminating the need for manual surveys.
Easy check-in: Security and Surveillance systems in the hospitality sector encompass face and fingerprint recognition. A visitor’s biometrics are used to streamline the check-in and check-out processes while also eliminating the need for physical keys. In the future, biometrics may further shorten the check-in time by doing away with physical wallets, e-wallets, smartphones, or cards for payments. Services like Aadhaar-enabled Payment System (AePS) can be integrated with such systems seamlessly.
Quick Lead Generation: With AI-led systems, incoming customer queries can be straightaway directed to a hotel’s Facebook Messenger chatbot. Doing so will trigger an automated lead generation process before sending the relevant details to the hotel staff for response. Here, a prompt response enhances customer engagement and provides a database to the hotel for future marketing efforts.
Dynamic pricing and profits: AI can give insights into demand forecasts, competitor rates, and price sensitivities while incorporating other factors such as seasonality, special events, and day-of-the-week differences to maximize room occupancy at dynamic pricing. Other factors such as duration of stay and the type of room can also be taken into account to multiply revenues and hence, profits.
Recover and thrive
In the near-term, it could be a slow start for hospitality brands that seek international guests. People might prefer to travel in proximity only once normalcy is restored. However, a business traveler is most likely to be your first guest post lockdown. Families might prefer private accommodations with an adjoining open area to wander freely. Hospitality brands will have to identify and cater to such emerging preferences to ensure the best experience for their guests, an area where AI can make them a force to reckon with.
A hospitality brand must formulate wise short-term and long-term strategies leveraging the power of AI and ML. It might take some time for the brand to function with full economic force. Hence, one should not only be agile enough to adjust as per the emerging challenges, but also keep operations perfectly aligned with the long-term objectives to truly convert them into opportunities.